I’m starting a new series today called, “You Ask, I Answer”, where I respond to the most common questions I get from prospective or admitted students. This question is one I get asked frequently, but if you have a question you’d like me to answer in the next post, be sure to comment below!

What do getting married, starting a family, and beginning graduate school have in common? There’s never the “perfect” time.

Of all the questions I get at graduate school fairs, this one is the most difficult to answer because it really, really depends on each student’s unique situation, but I’ve weighed what I think are some of the most important factors to consider when making the decision to apply to graduate school.

Advantages to starting within 1-2 years of graduation

  • It’s easier to uproot your life. The younger you are, the more flexibility you’re likely to have when it comes to relocating; you may not have to think about moving a partner or children with you, the way you might when you’re older.
  • Your knowledge is fresh. Other students in your classes may not have taken statistics in five or even ten years! The sooner you begin graduate school after undergrad, the fresher a lot of the material will seem, and you may not have to “re-learn” as much as older students will.
  • You can be more involved in extra-curriculars. Graduate school can be a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and to get involved with clubs that interest you. Obviously, older students can do this too, but it’s certainly more difficult to grab an impromptu drink with your cohort after class if you know your spouse and kids are waiting for you at home (or if you have a deadline to meet for your job).

Advantages to starting with 3+ years of work experience

  • Money, money, money. Yes, it’s the elephant in the room when deciding to pursue graduate school: even with significant scholarships, it is still a financial investment. Waiting to start graduate school gives you more time to plan how you’ll pay for it, and to save up money for your degree.
  • You know what you want to do. It’s not always realistic to expect someone to know what they want to do for the rest of your life 22 or 23. Sure, a job or field might sound good in theory, but after a few years you might realize it’s not quite the right fit for your interests or skillset. The longer you wait to attend graduate school, the more likely you are to have a clear idea of the professional path you want to take.
  • You can apply theoreticals to the real world. While Heller is great at providing students with real-world scenarios and giving students experiential learning opportunities, there’s no better teacher than doing. The more experience you have, the more likely you’ll be able to connect what you’re learning in the classroom to real world problems and solutions.

In general, I tend to advise students to gain some professional experience before applying to graduate school. I went to graduate school a year after I finished my undergraduate degree and earned a master’s degree in English with the aim of becoming a teacher, only to find that although I loved the world of higher education, teaching wasn’t the right fit for me. If I had taken a few years to work as a teacher in a classroom setting instead of going straight to graduate school, I could have saved myself a lot of headaches (not to mention time and money!). On the other hand, I have close friends who started graduate school later in life who then had to navigate uprooting their families to a new city, making a financial sacrifice that affected their entire family, and raise children in between studying for midterms. Each path has it’s pros and cons, so make sure you consider the above factors before making your decision.